Thursday, January 31, 2008

Reading Into Scripture

Yesterday at Marina Square's Carl's Jr, while my friends were enjoying themselves with their fries and burgers, I shuddered when I was told that:

- Jacob is the first person who discover genetic variants, based on Gen 30.32-43

- Cain is the world's first engineer, based on Gen 4.17

Are we reading too much of our own context into the text? Are these the best theologizing approach to domesticate the text, forcing it to say what it does not say? If not the best, are they legitimate? I know we are creative, but I think we should hold back a bit and learn to respect these ancient texts before we try to theologize them and turning them into our own image. Turning them into our own Tyler Durdens ------------------>

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Sze Zeng’s Favourite Reads in 2007

I managed to read only about 14 books last year (excluding those partially read). I am here recapping which books that were affecting Sze Zeng’s life and structuring him into who he is and who he is becoming. In fact, I think one might be able to make intelligent guess on my personhood and thoughts from the following list of my favourite read last year.

Epistemology/ Philosophy Category

The Shaping of Rationality
J. Wentzel van Huysteen

A very exciting book introduced by Ron Choong, a student of van Huysteen, on a constructive approach towards establishing a rationality which is not vulnerable to Descarte’s foundationalism and anti-foundationalism. A promising approach which strive to bridge the gap between the studies of religion and natural science by drawing on a shared resource of rationality. I’m grateful to Ron for this recommendation.

Hermeneutics/ Biblical Interpretation Category

Inspiration (New Century Theology)
David R. Law

Found this book lying at the dusty discounted corner of a local Catholic bookshop. It expounds the theological and critical issues relating to the doctrine of inspiration of the Bible. Though it is not thick, it covers rather wide discussion on the doctrine, drawing insights from relevant scholars from various traditions as its dialogue partners.

Culture/ Contemporary Issue Category

Technology and Human Becoming
Philip Hefner

The smallest of all the books that I remember reading in 2007. But it is also the one that leave the deepest impression on me. It deals with humans’ relation and response towards technology. It draws on movies like A.I, Blade Runner, I. Robot, and others to bring out his points. Absolutely illuminating and bizarre at some point. This book is a necessity for all who desire to be relevant not only for today but also for tomorrow’s world.

Biblical Studies Category

The Bible After Babel
John J. Collins

I am grateful to Niels P. Lemche for this recommendation. It is an eye-opener to student of biblical studies. It discusses the historical-critical criticism on the biblical text and how we have got it wrong in the past, and trying to get it right now, and what can we expect to get from it in the future with the current condition in biblical studies.

Ethics Category

The Way Forward: Christian Voices On Homosexuality And The Church
(edited by) Timothy Bradshaw

The book contains essays from Rowan Williams, Anthony C. Thiselton, Oliver O’Donovan and others. Needless to say more...

Theology/ Spirituality/ Christian Devotion/ Worldview Category

Interpreting God and the Postmodern Self
Anthony C. Thiselton

A majestic work that confronts the nihilistic postmodern condition on one hand, and the anti-realism theology on the other. Thiselton includes a variety of persona from Nietzsche to Freud to Wittgenstein to Don Cupitt to Gadamer to Ricouer in his discussion. One cannot help but to appreciate more of one’s identity, the nature of the world, and the realness of God when the last page was flipped. Remarkably Thiselton mentions one of his students, Mark Chan (currently the pastor of Evangel Christian Church and a lecturer at Trinity Theological College in Singapore), who was one of the lecturers that interviewed me during my application for enrolment at TTC. Apparently he is also someone that I humbly approached a few times for guidance.

Books that I struggle most to understand:

1) In Whom We Live and Move and Have Our Being: Panentheistic Reflections on God’s Presence in a Scientific World – (edited by) Philip Clayton, Arthur Peacocke
Most struggles because this is a rather new concept to me as I was being bred as a classical theist and Calvinistic trinitarianism when I started my reading on God’s relation with the world. These are only on the one end. On the other end, having a F9 for chemistry, F8 for physics, and a C5 for biology intensify the struggle to understand a Panentheistic reflections on God’s presence in a scientific world.

2) Renewing Biblical Interpretation – (edited by) Craig Bartholomew, Colin Greene, Karl Moller
This book is not meant for elementary readers in hermeneutics or biblical interpretation. Though I do sense that the essayists try to avoid jargons and familiarized academic phrasing, the essays are really difficult to understand. Probably the driest book on biblical hermeneutics that I have come across. Thiselton’s Two Horizons is easier, though his arguments need extra effort if they are meant to be followed.

3) The Israelites in History and Traditions – Niels Peter Lemche
This is totally new to me. NPL discusses anthropology theories, social theories and archaeological findings in regards to the OT. The introduction and the first chapter are still fine but from chapter two onwards, the more I read, the more I am frustrated for not able to follow his arguments. But I have been very patient to read his text again and again to get what he means. And I am really glad when I managed to finished it!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Alister McGrath's Science of God

Science of God’ is McGrath’s summarized introduction to his 3 volumes ‘A Scientific Theology’. It is an outline of his approach to develop a coherent understanding of the task of theology with major derivation from methods used in contemporary philosophies and natural sciences. In other words, McGrath seeks to explore Christian theology’s multi-faceted nature, finding answers to some of its problems through a wide spectrum of traditions.

The book consists of 5 parts. The first part records McGrath’s personal encounter with Christianity and hence Christian theology. He states that his commitment to atheism and Marxism in his teenage days was due to his ignorance of the exciting substances of Christian theology compared to his former beliefs (p.4). After his conversion in late November 1971, he pursued the studies of natural sciences and Christian theology academically, which he ended up with 2 doctorates; in molecular biology and historical and systematic theology. Impressive.

McGrath’s Scientific Theology has ‘three landmarks’ which are of central importance (p.8) to its conception. Those three are ‘The Genesis of Doctrine’ (1990), ‘The Foundation of Dialogue between Science and Religion’ (1998), and ‘Thomas F. Torrance: An Intellectual Biography’ (1999). These works provides McGrath the critical apparatus he needs for his own systemic approach to theology.

The other 4 parts are categorized in the ‘Content’ page: 1) Prolegomena, 2) Nature, 3) Reality, and 4) Theory. Each of these parts comprises extensive discussion in their own terms. All parts are coherently inter-linked, grounded, and supporting each other. Like a gigantic web with each corner being essential to its being, Scientific Theology’s conception of its methods, of the Nature, Reality, and Theory is essential to this enterprise.

Basically Scientific Theology distinctively comprised of 12 integrated and complex elements (p.11-12) that displays the encompassing and substantial characteristic of McGrath’s approach. McGrath discusses these 12 elements throughout the ‘Science of God’. He elaborates some of these elements with examples from scientific discoveries and experiments. And at most part of the work, he derives critically from other thinkers their contributions in their own respective field, and integrates and appropriates their contribution into a systemic theological configuration.

1) The development and thorough examination of the methodologies and assumptions assisting Christian theology.

2) Insistence on Christian Orthodoxy possesses the intellectual resources to engage natural sciences fruitfully.

3) Identification of scientific and theological consequences resulted by postmodern deconstruction of nature.

4) Re-appropriation of Doctrine of Creation that enables engagement with natural world.

5) Retrieval and reconstruction of an authentic Christian natural theology.

6) Affirmation of theological realism especially in non-foundational context.

7) Utilization of a ‘tradition-mediated’ rationality, which surpasses the extremes of the Enlightenment on one end, and the postmodern pluralism on the other.

8) Theological application of critical realism’s stratification reality.

9) Reaffirmation of the purpose and legitimacy of doctrines in Christian life.

10) Development of new models on doctrinal development.

11) Revalidation of ‘heresy’ and ‘orthodoxy’.

12) Reaffirmation of the legitimacy of metaphysics in Christian theology.

My first exposure to systematic theology is Norman Geisler’s multi-volume Systematic Theology. It is structured very much on classical theology, epitomized by Thomas Aquinas’ thoughts, which are helpful but in many aspects, dated. It does not extensively and substantially grapples with prevalent issues provoked by natural sciences as compared to McGrath’s work. Besides that, Geisler’s approach took issues of classical conception of doctrines and philosophies from the Medieval period as given, while McGrath paid attention to fundamental issues pertaining to the study of orthodoxy, underlying philosophies and historical context, and heresy. Hence, one might has the impression that McGrath seems to be dealing not merely with any particular theology but producing a ‘meta-theology’.

In summary, a Scientific Theology can be pictured as a ground-breaking ceremony with all the spades and soil being appropriately in-placed. McGrath humbly admits that such project is a ‘movement and not a condition, a voyage and not a harbour’ for further development. To him, this project will not settle anything but serve as an attempt, which is still far from its purpose, to make its holistic impact on Christian faith, and to “convey the immensity of the Christian vision of God” (p.250). An attempt that deserves and invites nothing less than deep admiration and immeasurable gratitude in return among Evangelicals. An attempt that, so far, projects itself to be significantly credible.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Ignorant People

If a person who doesn't know why he/she believes in something, and if he/she doesn't contend to others that his/her belief is THE right/true one, then this person is NOT ignorant. It is just alethio-apathetic, not ignorant.

An ignorant person is he/she who doesn't know why he/she believes in something, and yet contends that his/her belief is THE right/true one. Worst, this person prevents others from finding out the reason to believe in anything by themselves.

Steven told me about such person last Saturday. Such attitude really exist! Not in the university, not at home, not in corporate companies.... guess where?? The church!

Last week, after I came out from a MRT station, i was asked by someone to do a short survey. The survey is interesting. There are only 5 (or so) questions, and all related to Christianity. So I did them. Until I reached the 5th question, i just realize this is another heretical evangelist who try to convert other faithfuls to his heretical doctrines. The 5th question asks whether do you realize the word 'Elohim' in OT is not singular, and that there God the Father and God the Mother.

The heretical evangelist showed me Gen 1.27... that God in his image (singular), created him (singular), male and female (2 persons), He created them.

Then he turned to Rev 21.2... I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. (italic mine)

Then he relate Rev 21.2 to Gal 4.26... But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.

"See? There is God the Mother," said the heretical evangelist.

In reaction, I told him that he is pulling out passages to fit his doctrines. He has not deal with the text individually in their own literary context. Then told him about J, E, P, D and other stuffs.

Then he asked whether am I a seminarian. I told him that I am not, I read up on myself because I realize the difficulty to understand the bible, and also that the bible is a powerful tool that people manipulates to justifies almost everything. Creating their own doctrines and creeds, and propagates them.

We talked for another few minutes before he kept his NIV bible, shook my hand, and told me that he will send some articles to me to read, which I still haven't received till now.

So, now, how would an ignorant person respond in such situation? He/she could walk off feeling that the heretical evangelist as a heretic for no other reason that he has a different doctrines, or be spurred to re-examine and find out more about his/her own belief. But, since he/she is a ignorant person, he/she would just walk away feeling pity for the heretic without any thought of re-examining his/her basis for thinking that the heretic as a heretic; without feeling pity to him/herself.


"If I did have a tumor, I'd name it Marla."
- the narrator, Fight Club

"If I did have a tumor, I'd name it Nalika."